Float up a Flounder

Float rigs are rarely used to target flatfish, but they’re a great tactic when dragging baits across the structure that flounder love.

Of all the fishes in the sea, flounder are the most-recognizable, along with being one of the most sought-after up and down the Atlantic coast, in both a recreational and commercial sense.

Not only are flounder excellent on the plate, they bring big thrills on hook and line. They live along the Carolinas’ coastline in a wide variety of habitats, from offshore reefs out of Charleston Harbor to the brackish waters of North Carolina’s historic Albemarle Sound, in a wide variety of environments, from clean, sandy bottoms to treacherous war zones along historic wharfs.

While most anglers avoid heavy structure, many of these places are teeming with doormat flounder. With the right setup, anglers can bring home a limit without donating $50 worth of terminal tackle to the concrete and steel sea monsters down below.

Flounder are structure-oriented fish; their morphological characteristics and dark colorings allow for perfect concealment. While some anglers fish the edges of structure-laden waters, much of the best fishing is in the heart of these habitats, and the right tackle setup is required to pluck these fish out of hiding.

A float rig with a bobber stop and an octopus-style hook make up Jason Dail’s flounder float rig.

One North Carolina captain, Jason Dail of Silver Spoon Charters out of Wilmington, has perfected an inshore technique, not typically used for flounder, to bring these doormats out of the fortress.

“Flounder congregate at the bottom of rockpiles, old bridge revetments, concrete rubble, pilings and other places heavy with structure,” said Dail (910-540-0319). “A traditional Carolina rig or jighead will get hung up on the first drop, but a float rig is very effective and is rarely used for flounder.”

Dail fishes anywhere from the New River near Jacksonville to the mouth of the Cape Fear River near Southport, and wherever his boat is, he’s likely near areas heavy with structure — just like the fish — places that offer a perfect set up for ambush feeders.

“With the exception of the offset, octopus-style hook I use for flounder; I use the same float rig that I use for speckled trout,” he said “The float rig allows me to present live bait to flounder, speckled trout or redfish in places that no other terminal tackle option would make it out unscathed. And the flounder can be stacked up in these places with heavy structure.”

His float rig is fairly simple. Beginning with a bobber stopper, he threads on a Billy Bay Lowcountry Lightning Float, a small egg sinker, plastic bead and a two-way swivel. Below the swivel, he ties 12 to 24 inches of monofilament leader to an offset, 3/0 to 4/0, octopus-style hook. The bobber stopper enables him to adjust the depth he fishes.

“Flounder are generally laying along the (bottom), waiting for food to come bay,” Dail said. “As a result, I like to fish tight to the bottom or between 12 to 15 inches from the bottom, depending on water clarity. Unless I know exactly what the water depth is, I will start off deep until I get hung, and then I adjust shallower until I can ride right over the top of the structure.”

Flounder, especially keepers, will hang around any kind of obstruction on the bottom that can provide cover or an ambush spot.

Typically, Dail is rarely fishing anywhere without some sort of structure: oyster beds, rockpiles, pilings, submerged grass or concrete rubble. The float rig provides a mechanism to fish inside these areas of heavy cover and pluck the flounder out with ease.

“I will always have at least one float rig tied on in my boat wherever I am fishing and whatever I am fishing for flounder,” he said.

In September, flounder eat a wide variety of foods, including shrimp, mullet, menhaden and any other small fish less than 6 inches long. Any of these bait choices presented just above the structure is bound to be quickly eaten by a flounder nestled inside; however, Dail prefers finger mullet in September. They are very abundant and one of a flounder’s main forage sources in the early fall.

“In September, there are still plenty of scavengers stacked up on structure, and live shrimp will get pecked away as soon as it hits the water,” he said. “Finger mullet are easy to catch this time of year and perfect baits to float over a rockpile,.”

Using floats is far from a new technique for saltwater fishing. Floating baits and lures have been a productive technique for decades, but most anglers only utilize popping corks with short leaders in shallow water for speckled trout and redfish. Few anglers have floated baits over structure for flounder, and even fewer have used adjustable-depth floats to target flounder. Anglers shouldn’t avoid the structure-laden fortresses for targeting flounder because these habitats are perfect places for flounder to set up to fill their grocery bags.

Go Deep!

A flounder’s morphology naturally prepares it to feed in super-shallow places, with only a few inches of water required, but it will pick the best places to feed at the right times — and that’s not always in the shallows along the shoreline.

Flounder are structure-oriented fish for most of the year, and some of the best places to find flounder are around deep-water structure where bait and cover is plentiful.

Flounder are home around deep-water structure because they have everything they need for their daily chores, but in some areas, the structure is thick and treacherous along the bottom. These places are typically off-limits for traditional flounder anglers because most traditional rigging will quickly become permanent fixtures on the underwater obstructions.

The use of adjustable floats in these deep-water environments is an ideal solution that will produce big results. Jason Dail of Silver Spoon Charters in Wilmington, N.C., is a fan of adjustable-depth float fishing, and he will quickly deploy a float rig in deep-water places littered with structure.

Dail spends a lot of his time in the lower Cape Fear River area, where historic ruins from the last century’s shipping industry are plentiful. There are more shipping ruins below the waterline than above, offering plenty of places for flounder to feed.

“I like to target places with heavy structure in 10- to 15-foot water,” Dail said. “You really can’t use anything else without getting hung on the bottom. The float allows me to fish just above the structure in the strike zone.” Dail utilizes his sonar to pinpoint the collections of heavy structure and the depth of the top of these structures. He may not be able to see the flounder resting along the bottom, but he will surely be able to predict where to adjust his float to put his baits in spots where an unsuspecting flounder turns into prey and eventually into a flounder sandwich.

“The lower Cape Fear River is full of deep-water structure, and it is often full of big flounder. I have pulled some beasts out of areas like these using floats,” he said.


Jeff Burleson
About Jeff Burleson 1393 Articles
Jeff Burleson is a native of Lumberton, N.C., who lives in Myrtle Beach, S.C. He graduated from N.C. State University with a degree in fisheries and wildlife sciences and is a certified biologist and professional forester for Southern Palmetto Environmental Consulting.